Travelling in the 90s

Travelling in the 90s: Last days in Rome and Perugia

And so we come to the final post of this epic series featuring extracts of my 1993-1994 travel journal…

We’ve just come from Pompeii and Naples to spend our last couple of days in Rome, including a day trip to Perugia.

[Monday 21 February, 1994] Today we went to the Vatican. It was really funny, but as we got off the metro someone tapped me on the shoulder. It turned out to be this (very cute) Dutch guy and his friend who we’d hung out with at the hostel in Naples. They were also headed for the Vatican museums, so we spent the morning with them.

We all stopped for a breakfast coffee before entering the vast museums. They are certainly very ornate. The entrance was a huge spiral staircase leading up to the ticket office… and there was a student discount!

The museums contained all kinds of artwork, but galleries that stood out were the tapestry gallery, the map gallery, the Sistine Chapel (Michelangelo’s masterpiece, but also works by my main man Botticelli and others), and the paintings (particularly some woks by Raphael).

Being Dutch, A&J understood five out of the six languages issuing instructions about the Sistine Chapel: English, German, Italian, French and Spanish. The other language was Japanese – and I couldn’t even understand that, despite having a degree in the language. (It made me feel very inadequate.)

After the museums, A&J left us to our hambon jambons (our nickname for ham rolls) and St Peters Square and Basilica. The Square is very large and quite spectacular, while the Church is quite different from others we’ve seen. It was very “marbly”. Coloured marbles (green, red, ochre, white, black, pink etc) were used to create elaborate patterns on the walls and floor. I really like this effect. There were also lots of statues, including one by Michelangelo happily living behind bullet-proof glass. The ceilings were also very decorative.

After St Peters, we more or less retired for the day (I think we are getting a little tired!).

[Wednesday 23 February, 1994] Well, right now I am somewhat lacking in enthusiasm, as today was our last full day in Rome, and tomorrow we begin the journey home.

Yesterday we took a day-trip from Rome to Perugia, which we wanted to see because it was an Etruscan town. We were there by 12:30pm, daringly caught a bus to the top of the hill, and emerged to a wonderful view.


The “city centre” of Perugia is camped on the top of a rather steep-sided hill. In fact, there are immense escalators which connect the top to various piazzas further down. We spent the afternoon just wandering the streets – picking out a few sights from a very long list of churches.


There was an Etruscan well, an Etruscan arch connected to an Etruscan wall, a fountain decorated with relief panels (depicting fables, Roman history, sciences), and a fort known as Rocco Paolina. This last appeared to have been hollowed out under the cliff on the side of the hill and fortified – it now appears to exist solely for the pleasure of housing one of the escalators.

We waited for our 6:30pm train on the steps of the cathedral which appeared to be the local student hangout, amused for a while by the antics of a German Shepherd pup chasing the pigeons.

Today, our last day in Rome, we went “shopping” in the streets around Piazza del Spagna – mainly fashion boutiques, shoe shops and jewellery stores. Rome was a bit wearing today – especially the men on their stupid scooters amongst multitudes of cars and people.

We said goodbye to the Trevvi fountain and threw another coin in since we’d already used up the last one, then headed back to our room to relax and pack. Thrilling stuff for our last day…

[Friday 25 February, 1994] The journey home… (extract)


Then we had to queue to check in (in Athens). We were momentarily unnerved when it seemed we couldn’t get seats together in the non-smoking section, but it turned out our seats were already reserved because we had come through from Rome. Relief! Either of the alternatives would not have been pleasant, but I think we were both prepared to sit apart to get away from that awful incessant smoking that the Greeks seem to prefer.

[note: Most of the journey home content in my original journal is dull and boring, but I’ve included the above excerpt, because, yep, we were on a flight where smoking was permitted! Only in the 90s…]

So there we have it. Finished!

It only took 22 posts and 4.5 years to work my way through. I’ve really enjoyed reliving the trip after all these years. Thanks for coming along on the retro journey.

All the posts can be found (in reverse order) under the category Travelling in the 90s… I also intend to put a page together with links to all posts in order.

Travelling in the 90s: Naples and Pompeii

It must be time for an actual trip, right? Well, not today… Today I’m knocking off the penultimate post of my Travelling in the 90s series, which features extracts from my 1993-1994 travel journal — complete with bad photos.

I’ve enjoyed reliving this trip, which was my first overseas adventure. (It also remains the longest, at a length of around 12 weeks.)

The previous post took us to our final major destination — Rome. It’s been over a year since I posted that, as I’ve been focusing on the Mongolia trip, but it’s now time to wrap it up. Today’s post is mostly about our side trip to Naples and Pompeii.

[Friday 18 February, 1994] Today was dead, dull and boring. A real dud. It began with rain – that incessant kind you can’t hear until you open your window to witness the endless silver stream, and only then do you hear the gentle patter on the road or the roof top. The kind of rain that makes you slump inside.

Nevertheless, to Naples we were headed, so we shouldered packs – both large and small – and set off to the station. Large packs were deposited into the luggage store at the station, and we set off to find the train.

We missed one by about 10 minutes, and had to wait another 1.5 hours for the next (at 12:05). Not good. How do you fill in time at a train station? We went to Burgy’s for breakfast (King Chicken Burger) and sat around there for about half an hour, then we went and played with train times on the digital machines. We also browsed an Italian bookshop – most unsatisfying! When we finally got on the train, it was a two-hour, uneventful journey, save for the fact that the ticket man tried to tell us that our kilometrico ticket was invalid. It was valid, of course, but I’m not sure we convinced him. In any case he let us stay on the train!

It was, unfortunately, raining in Naples too. We wanted a coffee from our thermos, but there was nowhere to drink it (out of the rain). The tourist office provided a map, and we caught the metro to Mergellina, which is close to the shore, and near the youth hostel. We had a pasta lunch in a small restaurant – yummy.

Then it stopped raining! By this time, though, it was 4:00, the day nearly over, wasted. Oh well. We wandered down to the shore and walked along the beach front. From here, the view of Mt Vesuvius is astounding. Traffic whizzed past – much of it very liberal with the horn. (We had been warned this might happen in the south.)

The traffic in Naples is, in fact, extraordinary. Our LP guide book says that in Naples red means “go” and green means “go slow and carefully”. The amazing thing is that this is TRUE. Even for pedestrian crossings, which we attempted to use. The little green man is positively DANGEROUS if you believe him. I just had to laugh it was so incredible.

Aside from this, Naples apparently has its own guild of thieves, but we have not seen any yet.

[Sunday 20 February, 1994] First I must obviously write about yesterday. Yesterday was Pompeii.

We were up and out of the hostel early, and made it via train to Pompeii by 10:00am (a good thing too, because we needed the whole day). Armed with a guide book, we entered the vast site.

Pompeii is simply amazing.

It is literally an entire city – shops, houses, theatres, stadium, temples – the whole lot. Of course there is no way possible that you could carefully examine each building, so the guide books pick out the ones with interesting architecture, or well-preserved mosaics, statues, paintings etc. With almost no exception the buildings are all without ceilings. World War II caused some damage to walls and paintings, but an incredible proportion of the city still stands.


Amazing Pompeii

It is almost too difficult to comprehend it all. The paintings seem to be very much Greek oriented, as does a lot of the architecture. However, since Pompeii was Roman for the last 160 years, there are obviously signs of their influence as well.

I simply cannot begin to describe anything, and will have to refer back to the guide book when I desperately want to remember. But I loved it!

It was slightly disappointing that so many of the houses were locked up – very little sign of the so-called ubiquitous guards who could let us in. And even though it was the “off-season” the number of tourists was large. But I suppose nobody who visited Pompeii could fail to comprehend its uniqueness, and respect it.

The completeness of the city is so incredible! Every single shop and house there for us to see. I was very pleased to see a Temple to Apollo – and a quite substantial one at that, including statues of both Apollo and Artemis/Diana. All the council buildings, two theatres, stadium, and numerous baths were also there.

I shall cease writing about Pompeii now, as I fear I shall gush merely to describe what is indescribable. Pompeii is somewhere not to be missed by anybody within Europe!

[I have left this passage about Pompeii largely unedited, because I find my youthful exuberance amusing…]


Mount Vesuvius looming over Pompeii

After Pompeii we were quite exhausted. We caught the train back to Naples, and then back to Rome.

Today was Sunday. I’ve decided that Sundays in Italy are generally bad. Museums seem to close at 1:00pm every day, but on Sundays everything else seems to close early too. And the shops are closed! All this left us with a rather vacant afternoon.

But I’d better describe the morning first. Our first stop was the Baths of Caracella. Alas, it was impossible not to compare them with Pompeii, and they just didn’t live up to scratch. The mosaics were very nice though – covering the floors of the palaestra, changing rooms, and swimming pool area.

After the baths we wanted to find the Old Appian Way (via appia antica), which was one of the first Roman roads built. In this we failed. [I am so damned sad we couldn’t find it, because the pics online I’ve seen since look amazing…]


Rambling past the Palatine Hill (Rome)

Afterwards, we were fairly tired and dispirited, so killed time in Burgy’s for a while, recuperating, trying to decide what to do for the rest of the day. Eventually, we summoned up enough afternoon energy to visit Villa Borghese, which is not a house, but a grassy parkland.

Perched on the top of a hill, Villa Borghese must be the place to go on a Sunday afternoon, for it seemed the entire population of Rome (and their dogs) were there. There were kids on roller skates, bicycles, merry-go-rounds, row boats, Shetland ponies… the list goes on. The view from the top of the hill was pretty good too.

[now] It’s amazing how many people we met travelling who didn’t get to Pompeii, simply because of the extra effort it took to get there. They really missed something amazing. Pompeii was a definite highlight of this entire trip and is yet another place I would love to revisit.

As usual, terrible photo reproduction… When looking through the photos I’m frustrated by a) the poor quality of the prints, b) the small number of photos, because we were frugal with our film, and c) the fact we felt the need to be PRESENT in just about every photo! (Times have certainly changed…)

The next post in this series will cover our last couple of days in Rome and the journey home.

See Travelling in the 90s for more posts.

Travelling in the 90s: Venerable Rome

It’s been a year since I posted the last extract from my 1993-1994 travel journal for the Travelling in the 90s series. I’ve been distracted. But there’s only a couple of weeks of Italy to go on the entire trip, so I’m going to focus on getting to the end.

Our last stop was Florence — a bit of a disappointment in gloomy February. Will Rome be an improvement? (Oh, yes, I think it will!)

[Thursday 15 February, 1994] We took a train to Siena this afternoon, but upon arriving discovered that the train station was at the bottom of the hill (mountain) upon which the town perched. We tried to ring a hotel and got someone who only spoke Italian. Then we tried to catch a bus (up the mountain) but couldn’t work out how to get tickets.

Then we both had a tantrum, and in a fit of pique decided to trash Siena and Go Rome!

So we jumped back on the next train to Rome. When we got there we didn’t see any pickpockets (I have to admit to being paranoid) and were taken by a scout to Soggiorno “Vichi”, which is where we are now. However, there are not many blankets on the beds, and the shower is only so-so, so I’m not sure whether we’ll stay for the nine nights we have left. In the meantime, Rome awaits — I can’t wait to see some of it tomorrow!

[Wednesday 16 February, 1994] Today, we basically explored Rome. Our LP guide book gave a suggested route, which we more or less followed, and which included many of the major piazzas and monuments. Rome has so many of these that there is no possible way to see them all in one day.

We’re staying in a not-so-interesting area near the train station, but it’s certainly convenient as far as carrying packs goes. It means that we have to walk somewhere to get into the atmosphere of Rome. Initial impressions include smog, crazy driving, enormous, and the incredible number of piazzas — small or large squares, often with fountains in them.

There is the fountain in the piazza del Spagna (near the Spanish Steps, which are all uneven and higgledy piggledy); the famous and beautiful Trevvi Fountain (which was by far the cleanest thing we saw today — sparkling white); the fountains in the piazza del Navona (the central and main one is called “The Four Rivers” and in fun we named them Tiber, Arno, Rubicon and Grand Canal); and fountains in the piazza Farnese (two old bath tubs). We threw coins in the Trevvi Fountain (as one must) and also I believe in some others along the way.

Another feature of Rome is obelisks!

It was a great day. I really enjoy wandering around a city and just soaking up the atmosphere — Rome doesn’t hit you the way Paris or Venice do, but respect and wonder kind of seep in. It’s a GRAND old city and reminds me (in a literary fling) of a crusty old grandfather, who has seen so much of life that now everything is taken in his stride. Age and position command respect!

Our route today included the major sights of the Spanish Steps, Trevvi Fountain and the Pantheon. This last is an amazing piece of architecture — a huge dome with a hole in the top. The inside is mostly Christian, having been consecrated to the faith in 609BC. It was originally dedicated to all the Roman gods.


Pantheon, Rome

The Campo de Fiori was very un-bustling — I guess you have to catch it in the morning. And the via Vittorio Veneto is absolutely DEAD in the morning! We went through a pedestrian subway between via Veneto and piazza del Spagna which must have been half a kilometre long. We also walked for quite a while along the Tiber — it’s pretty, but seems almost forgotten. The grass is overgrown, and I got the impression that traffic zips over the bridges without even noticing that there’s a river there at all. Poor river.

Tiber River, Rome

Tiber River, Rome

There is so much more of Rome to see! More piazzas, heaps of churches, ruins, museums, not to mention the Vatican. Rome has so many layers. Venerable City!

Tonight we solved the dilemma of whether or not we should use our kettle (which MUST BE EARTHED) on the Italian sockets. For the operation we donned rubber-soled shoes and flicked the switch with a plastic spoon. It worked and boiled water twice without electrocuting us! But we shall continue to be careful…

[Thursday 17 February, 1994] It’s incredible to think that it’s only a week until we leave for home. Today I amazingly woke up with the 8:30 alarm, and actually got out of bed into the freezing cold morning. H was about half an hour behind me.

We went to the ancient sector of Rome today — the Colosseum, the Forum and the Palatine hill. The Colosseum turned out to be free for the first level, which suited us. A ruined stadium looks much the same from all levels.

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Next we went to the Forum which reminded me a bit of Ancient Corinth. It was a mess of ruined temples and basilicas — we were taken aback at how disorganised it was. We were forced to buy a guide book in order to discover what everything was. However, the book proved to be really good value with lots of interesting and useful facts.

There is not much left standing in the Forum. The Temple of Saturn has about six pillars, Castor and Pollux three, and Vesta three. The Temple of Antoninius and Faustina has about eight as well as a Christian basilica built in the centre. There were also temples to Julius Caesar, Venus and Rome, Romulus, and an interesting one to Apollo on the top of the Palatine Hill.

Ancient Forum, Rome

Ancient Forum, Rome

The guide book also covered the ruins on the Palatine hill, which consisted mainly of palaces and houses. The architecture of these buildings is really amazing. The Romans seemed to mainly build with flat bricks, so as a result the ruins look less ancient than ruins in Greece. They also tend to be covered in green vines, blending into the side of the hill. It was a very enjoyable day. We had a picnic lunch beside the temple of Venus and Rome with a view of the Colosseum.

I really really must go back to Rome. It was one of my favourite cities on this trip. There’s still more to come from Rome, but next post will be a side trip to Naples and Pompeii. More amazement!

(As usual, terrible photo reproduction… adds to the experience!)

If anyone has memorable travel experiences of Rome I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Travelling in the 90s: Florence is freezing

Meanwhile, at the tail end of my 1993-1994 adventures, we’re in Italy. Having just experienced the Carnival of Venice, we’re now en route to Firenze.

Welcome to Travelling in the 90s

[Saturday 12 February, 1994] It took over three hours on the train to reach Florence, through lovely rolling hills with villages nestled in the valleys. An accommodation scout brought us to the funniest little place — the kitchen and bathroom appear to be those also used by the family (or whoever lives here), but at the same time there are seven or eight rooms. It’s on the top of a four storey building with three other similar hotels in it. Our room is very comfortable with two beds, heater that works, table and two chairs, with lots of space.

[Sunday 13 February, 1994] Today was our introduction to Florence, and it was not a particularly auspicious beginning. Personally I find Florence rather dull and depressing. This may have something to do with the fact that, being Sunday, all the shops were closed. But what city’s museums are only open until 1:00pm? Just what is one supposed to do after that time?

Of course Florence has other attractions (such as the Uffizi Gallery) that are open until later during the week (just not Sundays)… HOWEVER, absolutely nothing is open on Mondays.

We didn’t pick very good days to come to Florence, I’m afraid.

Admittedly we started off badly, missing the 8:30 alarm and surfacing at around 10:00. This resulted in a hasty departure by 10:30 without breakfast and coffee. We went to the Pitti Palace, which houses about 8 museums and adjoins the Renaissance Boboli Gardens.

florence rooftopsWe chose to see the galleria del costume, which proved to be extremely interesting, as apart from various dresses of different periods, it exhibited reconstructed garments of the Medicci family. This included an account (in English) of how they reconstructed all the pieces — fascinating. We then wandered around (up and down) the Boboli Gardens for a while, viewing the red rooftops of Florence from a number of vantage points.

After the Boboli Gardens it was 1:00pm, so of course nothing more was open except for the Duomo (free). So while on the south side of the Arno River we checked out the “piazza de Michaelangelo”, named for the huge copy of David in the midst of a carpark on top of a hill (which we felt compelled to climb) offering a lovely view of Florence.

florence country wallBy this time we were starving and it was at about at this point (2:00pm) that disgust with Florence seeped in. Surely there must be a market for relatively cheap food in Florence? All we could find were heaps of cafes with table service etc… We wandered around for about an hour, until we finally found a snack bar just around the corner from our lodging, and ate heartily and wholesomely within the warm cocoon of the cafe.

I should mention here that today was FREEZING. The wind was bitter.

florence duomoAfter lunch we of course came across three other snack bars — that’s how it goes. We then wandered into the Duomo — all rather impressive on the outside with its pink/white/green marble facade, but typically churchy and almost dull on the inside.

Thoroughly freezing, tired, grumpy and bored, we got lost on the way back to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon in bed with books. Our “home”-cooked dinner of spag-bol was delish, and there’s enough for tomorrow night as well. yum yum.

[Tuesday 15 February, 1994] Yesterday we had lots of fun. Since Florence is dead on Mondays we went shopping — although it turned out that the only reason the market itself was open on a Monday was because it happened to be Valentines Day. In any case, we wandered around in the freezing cold, trying on leather jackets. I was after a brown-ish suede blazer-style jacket — and the first one was gorgeous! But I could hardly buy the first I tried on. Even though the man seemed very concerned that we understood he had NOT doubled the price of the jackets just so that he could halve them. Hmmm.

One guy at one of the stalls said: “Australian? You’re looking for something in brown suede.” I stared at him blankly until he said that all Australians wanted brown suede. Very amusing.

Eventually H tried on one she liked, then they finally brought out one I liked, and offered us a good deal for two. I checked the seams and the leather and the button-holes and the way it hung, and was satisfied. It’s impossible to say whether we got a good deal or not, but I don’t think we were ripped off. We are both feeling very pleased with ourselves.

florence fountainThis morning we went to the Uffizi Gallery. I had been especially looking forward to this because Florence is supposed to be the art capital of the world. When we got there at about 10:00am we waited in a 20 minute queue and it cost about aus$10.

We were disappointed to discover that owing to the bombing a while ago, only the top floor of the gallery was open. This took all of an hour and a half to see. They showed us some of the paintings that had been restored after the bomb, but most of what we saw were marble busts and statues, and paintings of the Madonna and Bambino or the holy family — too much of the latter gets rather tedious.

Nevertheless, we DID see the Botticelli room which was fantastic, brilliant, marvellous. I’ve decided I’m a big Botticelli fan. I crashed an English art history class and learnt about the “style” of his “Annunciation” compared with Leonardo’s — fascinating. I also saw “Birth of Venus”, “Allegory to Spring” and various others — a whole room devoted to him! Unfortunately only one Titian and a Michelangelo. Very sad.

Ah yes, methinks I need to go back to Florence in nicer weather, because I know so many people who love it and I just… didn’t.

Please share your Florence stories in the comments, happy or sad.

(Always apologies about the crummy photos from back then.)

Travelling in the 90s: The Carnival of Venice

We’re into the final two weeks of our 1993-1994 (Travelling in the 90s) adventure (back when I was a true natural blond — check out the photo). Venice was our first stop in Italy and undoubtedly one of the highlights. I can’t tell you how many exclamation marks I had to remove from the following extract from my original travel diary.

By complete serendipitous coincidence, we landed in Venice smack bang in the middle of Carnival. Oh. My. God.

[Friday 11 February, 1994] Well, today was Venice. There is simply no other way — no way at all — to describe it. Venice is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

The overnight train from Nice got in just after 9:00am. A guy in our cabin informed us that Venice was in carnival and that all the rooms would be booked… Naturally we became rather apprehensive about accommodation, because we’d had no idea. Thus when we jumped off the train and were offered a double room for one night only in a small pension for 70,000 lira (~$70) we took it straight away.

Thank heavens we did too, for I’d not have missed the Venice carnival for the world — and it transpired that the pension was quite close to Piazza San Marco and the very hub of the carnival.

There are so many things to describe about today. The man at the station put us on a vaporetto with directions, and we sat in the very front of the boat. Thus Venice was first introduced to us as we glided down the Grand Canal on a sunny blue morning.

Venice - Grand Canal

Venice – Grand Canal

It is one of the most magical things I have ever experienced — my heart was singing.

Now that sounds so corny, but I was so uplifted that I cannot describe it any better. The city is beautiful (I repeat myself!). The buildings are very old and often in severe disrepair, but there is something about water which makes everything beautiful. I can only hope that some of the many photos taken today can do the place justice. Today, Paris fades into nothing.

We found our hotel easily enough and deposited our bags, then we went out to explore. How lucky we are to have chosen now to come to Venice, because the carnival is the most amazing thing!

The basis of it appears to be costume — and in fact one of the first things that struck us about Venice was that every second shop was entirely devoted to masks. There are thousands of them, literally. And of all sorts: painted porcelain, leather, papier mache, sequin-covered, all sorts of interesting fabrics etc. Any possible conceivable mask could be found in Venice somewhere.

Venice - Masks

Venice – Masks

The costumes worn by people throughout the city (but mainly around the Piazza San Marco) were also extremely elaborate. Many of them appeared to be concoctions of tulle, rich fabrics, sequins — set off with plain white masks. But there were also Renaissance figures, medieval figures, young D’Artagnons, richly-dressed ladies of the past etc. Anything was conceivable.

The Piazza SM was very crowded, consisting mainly of huddles of people frantically taking photos of costumed figures, who seemed to spend all day walking a few paces and then stopping to pose serenely for at least ten minutes.

Venice costumes

Venice – Carnival costumes

Aside from those glorious costumes, there was street entertainment — mainly music by bands from all over Europe (it seemed). One German band played medieval-style music while dancing around and being generally silly. We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the crowds, admiring costumes, listening to music and absorbing atmosphere.

Venice gondolaWe also wandered around the ‘streets’ of Venice, which consisted entirely of pedestrians and bridges over the canals. We were waylaid by a Gondolier at one stage, and succumbed to a 40 minute gondola ride. (Well, it has to be done doesn’t it?) We also had the privilege of training a new gondolier — he needs a bit more practice! In any case, we thoroughly enjoyed our gondola ride — the near-silent lapping of the waters against the side and the dip of the oar in the water, as we glided through some of the smaller canals.

Afterwards, we found and photographed the Bridge of Sighs. By this time we were so starving that we blew our food budget on dinner. I had pizza, H pasta — with bread and water. Hmmm. Tomorrow it will be bread and cheese again!

Venice canal[Saturday 12 February, 1994] We got up at 8:30am (how funny that now we’re on the road we can do so easily!) and packed and left. For breakfast we had yoghurt and banana on the banks of the Grand Canal, while further costumed merrymakers passed us by. It was all rather lovely.

We then caught the number one vaporetto to the train station, where we booked a train ride to Firenze (Florence) and deposited our packs in the luggage store. We then set about finding souvenirs — for Venice hit us hard and we will never be the same again. Venice has DEFINED the word ‘masquerade’ for me, and that is how I will always remember it.

We were distracted from our battle with the scores of Saturday tourists who had flocked to the carnival, by a group of four English actors performing in comic style a version of Richard III in four (4) languages (English, German, French and Italian). They really were hysterical and very clever. Lunch took place on the steps of the station, and then we took the train to Florence.

Okaaay, so I was just a little bit excited… Next stop in 1994 is Florence, where we are considerably more subdued.

Travelling in the 90s: Provence (in the steps of Madam, will you Talk?)

Flights have been booked today for my next overseas adventure — Huzzah! All will be revealed in time; but in the short term I’m going to focus on wrapping up the Travelling in the 90s series. There’s not too much more of my 20-something year old ramblings to go.

So today it’s back to 1994 France, when $4 coffees seemed like a king’s ransom and there was no such thing as a smart phone. Or maybe even the internet…

[Wednesday 9 February, 1994] Tuesday we left Paris and caught the train to Avignon. We were very fortunate to be on a TGV train which went extremely fast — to Avignon in less than four hours. We arrived mid-afternoon and trudged like laden pack-horses through the centre of town to the youth hostel via the tourist information centre.

Avignon is totally gorgeous. It’s walled all around and has lots of tiny cobbled streets with real “provincial” shops. (How else can I describe them?)

The hostel was not too far, although outside the walls and across the river Rhone. As we stomped across the bridge, the wind (Mistral) was rather vicious — but we prevailed, and caught a magnificent view of the “Pont d’Avignon” (Pont St Benezet) of the well-known song.


Avignon – Pont St Benezet and Palais des Papes

The hostel is right on the banks of the river, providing fantastic views of the bridge, the “Rocher des Dames” (hill), Notre des Dames (cathedral), and the Palais de Papes (Palace of the Popes). It’s rather basic, although reasonably new. The management crammed us into a tiny room with four Canadians, leaving the rest of the place (huge) empty! We were not particularly impressed. Nevertheless, it is a place to sleep, reasonably priced, and could be a lot worse (memories of Patras).

When we got to the hostel at around 3pm it was absolutely deserted, so we dumped our packs under some stairs, had a cup of coffee, and then set off the explore for a few hours.

Avignon - Palais des Papes

Avignon – Palais des Papes

We started walking along the river, and ended up visiting the Palais des Papes. This is an enormous building, totally unfurnished, except for a few frescoes and tapestries — but the architecture was fascinating. Besides, I rather enjoy a good echoing hall! And of halls there were heaps. What would a pope do with so many halls I wonder? I loved the place.

We then set off the find the gardens referred to in Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart, which I am currently reading. After a bit of perplexion, it turned out that these were in fact Rocher des Dames — a hill on top of which is a sort of park area. The wind was very wild up there.

We then wandered back to the hostel, passing underneath Pont St Benezet. We found our packs, booked a room (which turned out to have four sleeping Canadians in it) and then had more coffee — oh I love our travel kettle!

Today we went to Nimes (a la Madam, will you talk?) — 30 minutes on the train from Avignon. Nimes is lovely too — quite similar to Avignon but substantially larger.

We walked around — past the Roman amphitheatre and up towards the Temple of Diana, which is part of le Jardins de Fontaine. This consists of Roman style water pools and arches (and statues), behind which is a large hill covered with gardens. On the top is a tower from which the view is said to be superb. (We wouldn’t know, because we couldn’t enter it without breaking locks.)

Nimes - Temple of Diana

Nimes – Temple of Diana

The Temple of Diana proved difficult to find — probably because I was expecting something grand. So when we finally found the forlorn, lonely little ruin I was surprised. It consisted of nothing more than half an arched roof filled with vines and ivy-covered trees.

On our way back towards the station, we stopped at the amphitheatre. The view from the top tiers was pretty good — although the canvas canopy to protect bull-fighting spectators marred it a bit. The construction was very similar to the Roman Colosseum, although smaller I think, and in better repair.

We foolishly caught the bus back to Avignon which took 1.5 hours, and reminded me considerably of the Delphi-Patras bus ride, as it took us into every little nook and cranny of every village of the region. (Perhaps I’m exaggerating.) This evening we booked our tickets to Venice on the overnight train for tomorrow. Then we went out with the Canadian girls to the Koala Bar in Avignon — run by Australians, but full of Americans!

[Thursday 10 February, 1994] This morning we slept in. We got away about 11:30am and made for le gare, where we deposited our packs in a locker for the afternoon. We decided not to do too much, so had a quiet afternoon sampling chocolate crepes and sidewalk coffees.

Avignon has a square (no cars) with heaps of tables and chairs out in the sun. It was a beautiful day, with blue sky, few clouds and almost no wind. (That Mistral can be quite bitter.) So we indulged ourselves by using up all our spare French cash on yummy French food.

(The food in France seems to be markedly superior to anywhere. Chocolate crepes are simply to die for, and the BREAD… I have actually been looking forward every day to bread with ham or cheese and tomato for lunch. It’s delicious!)

The crepes were of course tres superbe, and the sidewalk coffee was bliss. Even though it cost about AU$4 it was divine.

Train station - writing postcards

Train station – writing postcards

We are now on the train to Nice, where we expect to arrive some time after 8pm. We’ll then have around 3 hours to kill before catching our overnight train to Venice…

… Well, we utilised the first 1.5 hours in Nice very well, but unfortunately the station lockers closed at 10pm so we had to go back. Very upsetting.

Somehow, by shear fluke, we managed to crash the Nice festival!

It was the first night apparently, beginning with an enormous procession of floats, bands, children in costume, clowns — all throwing confetti and making “music”. It looked as though the children were in school class groups, and had been labouring for weeks on their costumes. People were running up and down the street with cans of spray-streamers (and tried more than once to sell such cans to us). The atmosphere was amazing — so much music, light and colour. Everyone was dancing and laughing.

nice carnival

Nice – Festival!

The procession ended in a big square entirely outlined (and walled) in coloured lights, where scaffold-seating housed a large crowd. The whole thing was incredible. We hung around a while, soaking in atmosphere, but then our time ran out and we had to go back to the station to retrieve our packs. Right now we are sitting morosely in the station, waiting for the train to take us to Italy.

Only two weeks to go.

Next stop in 1994 is the amazing city of Venice, where we somehow (completely by accident) managed to crash the famous Carnivale. That’s something to look forward to.

Next stop for me in 2015 is… Mongolia! More details later. One thing I can promise is better photos.

Travelling in the 90s: Parisian culture

It’s back to 1994 Paris for the latest installment of Travelling in the 90s. Here we have more of my ramblings from 21 years ago, with bad photos and far too many exclamation marks (most of which I have edited out)…

Latin Quarter, Paris

Latin Quarter, Paris

[Monday 7 February, 1994]

A few more impressions of Paris:

  • A great many of the women wear fur coats during the day. Whether this is for warmth or fashion, I’m not sure, but it’s quite amusing.
  • The Latin Quarter, where our hostel is situated, is a student area, and also appears to be the place to find a good meal. There are restaurants everywhere — cafes, creperies, Greek taverna — and they’re all outside our doorstep. So far we’ve had souvlaki and crepes — yum! I had a nutella and banana crepe — delicieux — with nutella inches thick. The street (very narrow, cars at a squeeze) is always teeming with people, and basically it’s a pretty happening place. Food is fairly cheap (for Paris).
  • Paris is very expensive, and we’re still trying to decide whether it’s because of the lousy exchange rate, or whether Parisians just put up with it. It’s ridiculous! For instance, a cup of coffee with milk is cheap at 6 FF (>$1.50) but may end up as much as 18FF. How do the locals afford it? We’ve come to regard Aus$10 as a cheap lunch.
  • All in all, though, I love Paris and could easily spend another week here.
Travel scrapbook

Travel scrapbook

Yesterday we went to the Musee d’Orsay, which happened to be free, being Sunday. There we saw art works from impressionist to “not-modern” eras.

The museum has been converted from an old railway station and still possesses high arch ceilings. We saw paintings etc by Degas, Monet, Gauguin, Manet, Delacroix, Ingres, Renoir, Cezanne, Pissaro, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin — to name a few!

After the museum, we went looking for something else to do. One of our room-mates at the hostel had said she enjoyed Montmartre, and since this proved to be the Bohemian haunt, we both decided it sounded good.

Sacre Coeur dominates the “butte Montmartre” (or hill). It’s white on the outside with graceful domes, while the inside is much like any other cathedral — except for the mosaics, which were particularly beautiful. (I have recently discovered that I like mosaics — they are so intricate.) The basilica was also ablaze with candles and teeming with the most people I have seen together since the Melbourne Show.

The journal itself


The steps outside Sacre Coeur, which go down the hill, were covered in people — out for their Sunday stroll or tourists like us? It was really quite amazing. The view of Paris from the top of the hill was spectacular.

Nestled around Sacre Coeur on the top of the hill (and extending down the sides in Greek fashion) were the cobbled streets and houses of Montmartre. We wandered around these for a while, and came upon a square of portrait artists. The atmosphere was terrific, just as I expected Paris to be.

After Montmartre, we decided to check out Notre Dame. This too was teeming with people. It is very strange to go into a silent church that is nevertheless so crowded one has to squeeze past people! Unfortunately both the tower and the treasuries were closed, so instead we went around to the front to photograph it from the garden. In all, we packed a lot into a great day.

Today we went to the renowned Paris Opera House — home of the phantom. We glimpsed inside the auditorium for a few moments before a rehearsal of some kind took over. It had boxes all around, with seats in the stalls only. We then wandered through the main foyer and lobby etc and saw an exhibition of costumes. The decorations within the building are quite amazing — mosaics on the ceilings, “gold” carvings, marble floors, statues. It was incredibly ornate, but always tasteful. Lovely indeed.

Statue of a centaur, Louvre Museum, Paris

Statue of a centaur, Louvre, Paris

We next ate bread and camembert and patisserie for lunch outside the Louvre, while waiting for 3pm in order to get reduced priced tickets. Then we had three hours to do as much of the museum as we could.

I couldn’t begin to describe everything we saw, but it included Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan artifacts (including Venus de Milo, which we think should be called Aphrodite de Milos!), as well as numerous paintings (yes, we managed to see the Mona Lisa of course). Much of the sculpture was beautiful too.

We were exhausted about two thirds of the way around. There is far too much to see in one visit. Nevertheless, I felt a bit more cultured by the end of it.

I think my favourite bit of that installment is the comment on coffee prices… I remember being outraged at the thought of coffee costing $4.50. (HAHAHA)

Next stop will be Avignon!

Travelling in the 90s: In which we hit Paris

We’re on the homeward stretch in my Travelling in the 90s series, which features extracts from my original travel journal in 1993-1994. This was my first ever trip overseas, taken after I finished my undergraduate university studies. I’m young, green and oh so enthusiastic!

So far we’ve spent a couple of weeks in Greece and about six weeks tripping around the UK. This latest installment picks up on our arrival in Paris, after an entire day of travel. (No Eurostar train in those days!)

[Saturday 5 February, 1994] The train arrived in Paris at 6:15 on Thursday evening — and it was dark. After lugging our extremely heavy packs for nearly one and a half hours, we finally found the hostel we’d booked — very swish, with clean, large rooms and a huge wall heater for drying our washing. After trudging through the streets of Paris it was lovely. But expensive.

The next morning we mastered the Paris metro system and found somewhere cheaper — the “Young and Happy” hostel in the Latin Quarter of Paris, surrounded by markets and little cafes. The hostel itself is quite dilapidated, but has so much character that we love it! In any case, we were able to drop our packs for the day, and take a proper look at Paris. Breath it in.

Characteristically, we began with an extensive walking tour, strolling along the Seine River in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. It was a very long walk!


Seine River

We met the Seine at Notre Dame, and walked along the north bank west past the Louvre, the Louvre gardens, the place de la Concord, the grand et petit palais to the palais de chaillot, et finale le tour eiffel!!

We were rather exhausted by this stage, despite the fact that we had been strolling in a calm, easy manner. At the tower there was a queue for the lift, so we (foolishly) decided to climb the stairs and save some money at the same time. It didn’t look that far…

By the time we’d reached the first level we were panting and footsore. Eventually we summoned the energy to stroll about the viewing platform at the first level. There were signs and pictures all the way around pointing out buildings and monuments etc.

The view was superb — so superb in fact that we decided that the next level up couldn’t improve on it too much. (At least, we decided this after a few steps onwards and upwards.) So we’ve done level one of the Eiffel Tower — now there’s something left to do next time!

Not surprisingly, by now we were hungry, and needed to change some traveller’s cheques in order to eat. So we headed for the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee (more walking).


Arc de Triomphe

The Arc is certainly magnificent and awe-inspiring — looming up in the centre of a busy roundabout. Access is via tunnels. Both hunger and the threat of being mugged in the tunnels prevented us from approaching any closer than the side of the road, so we gazed at the Arc and walked on by… The Champs beckoned.

It took us ages to find a bank that did not charge us a commission on our travellers cheques. It seems to happen a lot to us — we decide we’re hungry, and we want to eat NOW. But unless we have our lunch already (as in carry bread etc around with us) it invariably takes hours before we find a suitable place to eat.

Take the Champs Elysee, for example. According to popular report, this is supposed to be a happening place in Paris. In actual fact, the traffic roars down it, so that anyone at a roadside cafe would breathe in as much car exhaust as O2. To overcome this, cafes have glass annexes attached to their shop-fronts — but the convivial atmosphere of Paris is just not happening here. The Champs has to go down as being very disappointing.

So we finally ate in a baguette chain called “Pomme du Pain”. It was delicious but very expensive — I don’t think we’ll be eating out much in Paris! After “lunch” we stuffed around for a bit and then caught the metro back to our hostel ( about 8km is enough walking!). We broke-in our beautiful new kettle by having cup-a-soup for dinner and settled in for a quiet evening.

Today we went to Versailles. Contrary to my own expectation, Versailles was magnificent! I rather expected to find it a trifle tizzy and gaudy — and it certainly was in places — but for the most part, all the gilt work was quite tastefully done.

Most of the rooms we saw were fairly similar, but one of the features which really stood out was the marble work on the floors and walls. All colours of marble (red, green, grey) were used in decorative patterns, highlighted with gold trim. And the ceilings were works of art themselves — intricate paintings of both mythological and religious significance.

Not all of the rooms were beautiful, though — notably those possessing bright velvet wallpaper or intensive floral design. Nevertheless, overall my impressions were favourable.

However, it impressed on me the severity of the excesses of the old French nobility, and I cannot think it an amazing thing that the French Revolution was so bloody and so heartfelt. Versailles is so filled with gold that it is sickening when you think about it.

The gardens of Versailles are beautiful too. We took our lunch there for a picnic (camembert, fresh white bread, mandarin) and fortunately it was a sunny day. We wandered around the gardens, checking out the famous fountain which shows four straining horses pulling a chariot up out of the water — it’s Apollo (my favourite god) of course.


Shrouded statue in Versailles (Grrr Argh!)

Most of the other statues were covered in heavy green cloth which struck us particularly. Sometimes travelling in Winter is depressing — things are so often closed or under repair!

General impressions of Paris so far: It’s a lovely city, and seems even bigger than London. The river — definitely the centre of attention — meanders through the city, with ornate bridges arching across and buildings (old and new) lining its banks.

All the trees are skeletal, and the whole effect is quite soft. The weather seems to be mild, although it rained a little bit yesterday afternoon. The buildings are light-coloured and not too ornate. The people all seem to be very purposeful.

We’ve really only seen the river section so far, and there’s a lot we won’t have time for unfortunately. However, I think I’m starting to get a feel for the city. It’s lovely and light and open with space — even the roads are wide.

There ends the account of our first two days in Paris. Apologies (yet again) for the poor picture quality… these were all taken 20 years ago on a disposable camera and photographed with my iPhone. The next post will cover the second half of our Parisian expedition.

I was about to say I returned to Paris just recently… and then I realised it was four whole years ago. Ye gods!

Travelling in the 90s: last days in London

And now for more Travelling in the 90s — tripping back in time to 1994 and my last few days in the UK…

[Saturday 29 January, 1994] Yesterday we headed back to London via Oxford. We wandered around for a while — saw the canal, saw the castle, saw some shops — before picking up a walking tour at 2pm. Our guide was French, and we were taken through Corpus Christi College, Merton, Aureole, Jesus — all of them consisting of courtyards surrounded by student accommodation.

I am so envious of Oxford Students! To live in such gorgeous buildings as these. But they have to wear academic gowns to dinner every night, and all through exams. Pain in the neck!

Oxford is a university city all through, with thirty-six colleges and around 100,000 bicycles. We also saw the Bodleian Library which has over six million books.

When we got back to London, we had to give the car back. 😦

windsor castle

Windsor Castle

[Sunday 30 January, 1994] Today we were up really early to see Windsor Castle — that other Royal Residence. It took over two hours to get there by train, and cost 6.50 pounds. We certainly rued the loss of our car. Nevertheless we were in by 11:00, and rampant.

Well, Windsor Castle is certainly very large; however, we didn’t go into that much of it really. The main attraction is the Royal apartments — these consist of ornate ceilings, paintings by master artists (Rubens, Van Dyke…), and swords, guns and armour!!! This Windsor family has far too many of these than is fair — they line every wall in intricate arrangements and patterns. If only I could have one — just one!!

Queen Mary’s Doll’s House was a replica of just about everything, including armour, electricity, plumbing etc, and we also saw the Queen’s presents and carriages (we pretended to be under 17 so it was cheaper — how depressing that they believed us).

Amazingly, there was no food (but 5 souvenir shops) to be found within the castle, so we had to leave out the St Georges Chapel which did not open until 2:00pm on Sundays. After lunch, we had “cream tea” in the Windsor Chocolate House, which was delish. The train back home was just as tedious.

horse guards

Horse Guards

[Tuesday 1 February, 1994] Only one more day in England to go! Yesterday, we traipsed all around London again — but we STILL haven’t seen the changing of the guards. We are doomed to miss it I fear — oh well, something for next time. It was a bitty day. We checked out planetarium times, bought tickets for Les Miserables, took photos of Trafalgar Square (we hadn’t until then), and went to St Catherine’s House, where H was to search for some death certificates in order to assist her mother’s family tree compilation. While she was thus occupied, I amused myself by looking up the birth records of Dad and Grandad.

rosetta stone

Rosetta Stone

After lunch we went finally to the British Museum. We burned around a bit, searching for famous artifacts: Rosetta Stone, Egyptian Mummies etc, but… DISTRESS! The caryatid stolen from the Acropolis was in a box somewhere while its display was renovated. After all this we were exhausted. However, we had to hang around because we went to see Les Mis, which was brilliant!

Today we went to Bodiam Castle, and then down to Battle — scene of the Battle of Hastings 1066. Bodiam is beautiful — straight out of a fairy tale with four towers and a moat (although it’s a ruin). In fact, it’s on the front covers of both my castle books. Unfortunately the weather was lousy — excessive wind and then rain. (Great atmosphere though — the dark, brooding shell of an abandoned castle.)

bodiam castle

Bodiam Castle

We lunched in a pub before going on to Battle. It was quite fantastic to visit such a famous site. The battle-ground is now lush and green with trees. At the site stands the ruins of the abbey which William built to atone for all the bloodshed — he placed the altar on the site of Harold’s death. History is so powerful, and although it’s so often bloody, I was moved just to be there.

[Thursday 3 February, 1994] This morning, we were up early (7:00) because we were leaving at 7:50 to catch the 8:08 train to Victoria, to catch the 9:25 boat train to France.

But there was drama. First we were told that the weather was forcing us to catch the ferry from Dover to Calais, instead of the Hoverspeed Sea Cat from Folkestone to Bouloigne — so we were shunted off to Dover on the train. At Dover it transpired that we were catching the Sea Cat, and there would only be a 15 minute delay — oh goody. Once on the Sea Cat we were informed that all the furor was due to rampaging Normanby fishermen which had closed the Bouloigne sea port. In Calais we had to wait an hour to be bused to the Calais ferry-train-station, where we had to wait another half an hour for the train to depart.

The result of all this stuffing about is that we will be in Paris more than two hours later than the 4:15 we were expecting. We’re on the train on the moment, so we’ll just have to see…

Well, the Eurostar train certainly makes it MUCH easier to get to Paris these days… And Paris is where you’ll find us in the next installment of travelling in the 90s! This is approximately the 2/3 mark of our 12 week holiday.

PS – To this day, despite revisiting London several times, I have STILL never seen the changing of the guards… And I really need to go back to the British Museum.

Travelling in the 90s: cool places like Sherwood Forest, York, moors

And now for more Travelling in the 90s — tripping back in time to 1994 and my road trip around the UK. Last installment from my travel journal saw us in Scotland and we’ve now come south again to hang out with family friends on a quaint little farm near Lincoln in northern England…

pigs[Monday 17 January, 1994] This morning I slept in and later went for a walk around the farm. It SNOWED overnight (not heavily but enough). We walked down some country lanes and came to a pig farm. I was fascinated, having never seen a pig farm before — the pigs are huge things. I also saw a large fox, a squirrel, horses, goats, and a rabbit. Add to these the menagerie of animals living or day-boarding at the farm… I guess no farm is the same without animals.

[Wednesday 19 January, 1994] Today H and I decided we had better get off our backsides and do something other than laze about the farm, so we went down to Sherwood Forest — only an hour away. It was amazingly a beautiful day (for England) and we walked through Birklands Forest, and then through Thieves Wood — both remaining clumps of the once-mighty Sherwood Forest.

Birklands consisted mainly of birch trees (surprise), and we were mildly disappointed that it wasn’t a dense forest. Not as we’d imagined. The trees weren’t very tall, were widely spaced with little undergrowth, and gave very little cover. How would Robin Hood’s Merry Men hide???

major oakNevertheless, it was very pretty, and we saw the Major Oak — according to legend the tree under which Robin Hood met his men. But the tree is only about 500 years old (only!) — not old enough for Robin Hood. We then went into Nottingham to get our mega-touristy Robin Hood fix at the Robin Hood Centre. It was overall an immensely enjoyable day.

[Saturday 22 January, 1994] Thursday saw us in York, the Roman/Viking city with a wall around it. We are still being singularly unsuccessful with getting up early, but were in York by about midday (disgraceful!). We went first to the old York keep, and admired the city from the top.

yorkWe then headed for the Jorvik Viking Centre (expensive!), similar in theory to the Robin Hood centre – i.e. we got to ride little carriages through a reconstructed Viking street (smell and sound included) and then through a reconstructed archaeological site. I actually bought a scratch and sniff postcard — Viking market and latrines!

After seeing York minster (yet another cathedral), and wandering along the York wall for a while, we had afternoon tea at a delightful old-fashioned coffee house — Thomas Gent’s is situated on a tiny little cobbled lane called Coffee Yard. In fact much of York is cobbled shopping malls, so the place has lots of atmosphere. It was lovely just to wander about and window shop.

Another cathedral awaited us yesterday in Lincoln — but with a difference. The Lincoln imp sits up at the top of one of the pillars grinning down at people. He’s cute. Lincoln castle was next (if there’s a castle I gotta go see it!).

A big bonus was that one of the four remaining original versions of the Magna Carta was there! It was incredible to see something of such historical significance. The castle itself consisted mainly of walls, with a rather spectacular observatory tower, and a keep shoved off to the side which reminded both of us of “The Secret Garden”. It had a lovely tall tree in the middle.

ilkley moor[Tuesday 25 January, 1994] Sunday was a lovely day, and we drove to the Yorkshire Dales and Ilkley Moor. I’m really glad I’ve seen a moor now! It was hilly and barren, with red bracken covering the ground. We parked the car and stumbled out into the FREEZING wind — amazing how cold it was up there, given the sunny weather.

We drove then to Haworth, the old home of the Brontes — Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Predictably, the parsonage where they lived was closed, but the village is extremely pretty, consisting of a main cobbled street that climbed a hill. We went for a wander, and found afternoon tea at Heather Cottage — hot chocolate fudge cake and cream. Yum!

cleethorpesYesterday we visited the beach. Specifically, Cleethorpes, a port town near the mouth of the Humber. We ate fish and chips (from Ye Olde Chippie) on the water front (at the edge of the muddy beach). And promenaded along the beach (well, along the asphalt pathway next to the mud). And so now we’ve seen an English beach.

Next we went to Gainsborough Old Hall — an English Heritage Property picked at random off the map. It turned out to be a real highlight. The Hall was mainly medieval, and really well set out — enhanced by an audio tour which lasted for about 50 minutes. In particular, the main hall was wonderful — with high wooden arches and a floor paved in terracotta.

Sadly, our road trip is almost over and it’s back to London next, then Paris! Looking forward to reliving that…

PS — the last couple of photos are even more crappy than ever, owing to the fact my camera broke and H temporarily LOST hers, leaving us at the mercy of a DISPOSABLE camera… remember those? (They are still all iPhone snaps of prints – apologies!)